Week of July 17, 2013

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

All my life I have sought to draw more closely to God through the gift of prayer, so I never tire of people who speak honestly, directly and insightfully about the life of prayer. Such is the gift offered to us by Anne Lamott in her 2012 book, Help. Thanks. Wow.: The Three Essential Prayers. I read years ago Lamott’s candid confession that she believed there were only two prayers she ever prayed, no matter what words she offered to God: “Help me. Help me. Help me. And thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I guess that she has added a new and another prayer to her list reveals growth! May we all of us keep growing all of our days.

I love how Lamott begins her conversation on prayer! “Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.” She goes on to say, “Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.) Prayer is taking a chance against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.” As such, prayer is grace and comes to us as a gift in our weakness and brokenness. Anne says, “We can say anything to God. It’s all prayer…God can handle honesty and prayer begins an honest conversation. My belief is that when you’re telling God the truth, you’re close to God.” I believe we are never closer than when we come clean with God in prayer!

Her first “essential prayer” is Help. “Out of the depths have I cried to Thee,” said the Psalmist, who was always speaking the truth to Yahweh, even when the truth hurt. To be human is to suffer and to need help. “Human lives are hard, even those of health and privilege and don’t make much sense.” Lamott goes on to say, “We start where we are. We find God in our human lives and that includes the suffering.” We cry out to God for help and this is always a prayer that God is ready to hear. We admit in this prayer that we cannot make it alone, that more than we need anything else that we imagine we need, we need above all else God. Help.

Thanks. If we only could pray one prayer, I suspect that to pray a heartfelt “Thanks” to God would be enough. We all have lives we have not created but have only received. They come to us as gift. And while our lives are not all sweetness and light, life comes as a package deal and every bit of it is given. Christian theology calls this grace and grace always echoes in gratitude in our lives. We are beginning to live into a new vision as a church of people whose lives are marked increasingly by “gratitude, hospitality and generosity.” Gratitude, or the deep down feeling of thanks, is the key to everything else that Jesus wants to do in your life. “Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where joy resides.” Lamott says further, “The movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace.” “Saying and meaning ‘Thanks’ leads to a crazy thought: What more can I give?”

Help. Thanks. Wow. A sunset or sunrise can lead you to a “Wow” moment. Holding a newborn baby in your arms can leave you breathless. Wow. Realizing how deeply you have loved someone you have lost can lead to such a prayer. Or simply gazing at a poem or a painting, or hearing music that is beautiful can be an occasion for prayer. Wow. Lamott is onto something when she writes, ‘“Wow’ means we are not dulled to wonder… ‘Wow’ is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes.” In our “Wow” moments we realize that God keeps giving and this same God keeps forgiving and inviting us back again and again when we have lost our way. Lamott says that “Wow” means that something new has gotten to you and when nothing new can get to you, you are as good as dead. In John’s Revelation, the Risen Christ says, “Behold, I make all things new.” This is God’s relentless way with us, and when we are open to life, we can be awed by it at any moment.

Help. Thanks. Wow. Amen.

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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